Visual artist Sungsil Ryu takes visitors on a wild ride through Atelier Hermès

Installation view of Sungsil Ryu’s exhibition “The Burning Love Song” [FONDATION D’ENTREPRISE HERMES]

Sungsil Ryu, a 29-year-old visual artist based in Seoul, creates a paradise of disasters in her video works. Featuring a North Korean-inspired aesthetic as well as imagery of rainbows and fire, they’re reminiscent of the year 2000. The stories, however, go beyond just looking ” branch “.

She was selected as a recipient of the 19th Hermès Missulsang Foundation last year. Ryu is the youngest artist ever to win the prestigious art award.

His solo exhibition, “The Burning Love Song,” which addresses Korean society’s obsession with money and social status in a satirical and kitschy way, opened last Thursday at Atelier Hermès in Gangnam District, South Korea. south of Seoul.

Placed in the middle of the exhibition space, this installation serves both as a memorial and a crematorium.  Note the details of the fans and a mural of Lee Dae-wang, the main protagonist of Ryu's works. [FONDATION D'ENTREPRISE HERMES]

Placed in the middle of the exhibition space, this installation serves both as a memorial and a crematorium. Note the details of the fans and a mural of Lee Dae-wang, the main protagonist of Ryu’s works. [FONDATION D’ENTREPRISE HERMES]

The first impression upon entering the exhibit is that it looks like a memorial space for a company called Big King Dog Funeral.

Before digging into his works, it should first be noted that Ryu has his own universe of three recurring characters: Cherry Jang, Natasha and Lee Dae-wang.

Here shows Lee Dae-wang, the CEO of Big King Dog Funeral. [FONDATION D'ENTREPRISE HERMES]

Here shows Lee Dae-wang, the CEO of Big King Dog Funeral. [FONDATION D’ENTREPRISE HERMES]

Cherry Jang, an actual character that Ryu plays herself, wears heavy makeup and powdered her face completely white. She is an influencer; she uses platforms like YouTube and AfreecaTV to spread fake news, such as conspiracy theories about North Korea firing missiles at the South, and it turned her into rich news.

Natasha is also played by Ryu and looks exactly like Cherry. The only difference is their accents – Natasha claims she is a “foreigner” and speaks with an unfamiliar dialect. Working as a tourist guide, she swindles people into traveling abroad.

Lee Dae-wang, the main protagonist of Ryu’s tale, whose name translates to “Mr. Big King,” is portrayed as an opportunistic capitalist who recklessly jumps at any opportunity to expand his business. After his travel agency Big King Travel has begun to struggle due to the pandemic, Dae-wang abruptly starts a dog funeral service business.

This 10-minute video shows the hectic but profitable process of a dog's funeral ceremony, featuring Dae-wang and Natasha. [FONDATION D'ENTREPRISE HERMES]

This 10-minute video shows the hectic but profitable process of a dog’s funeral ceremony, featuring Dae-wang and Natasha. [FONDATION D’ENTREPRISE HERMES]

“Big King Travel is going into crisis because of Covid-19, and so many people are dying because of the virus,” Ryu said during a press conference at the expo last Thursday. “He has this business idea for funerals, and then he realizes that dogs in particular are bound to have higher turnover rates because they have shorter lifespans than humans.”

A large crematorium is set up in the middle of the exhibit, with a large screen to one side showing a 10-minute video of the “funeral ceremony” for a deceased dog named Gongju, or “princess.” The whole process is an elaborate marketing ploy that takes advantage of the vulnerable state of the customers.

Using words like “service,” “the best,” and “pray for what you desire,” the funeral home extravagantly mourns Gongju’s death while singing “True Love,” a song Dae-wang says he wrote. himself. Natasha then begins to claim that she has been possessed by the spirit of the dog and acts as a communicator between the spirit and Gongju’s owner.

Dae-wang's interview is shown next to the electronic board that represents the dog's funeral order. [FONDATION D'ENTREPRISE HERMES]

Dae-wang’s interview is shown next to the electronic board that represents the dog’s funeral order. [FONDATION D’ENTREPRISE HERMES]

The whole funeral session is chaotic, as Dae-wang opens the cremation oven and hastily burns Gongju’s body while showing the owner’s horrified face, and he also launches Gongju’s body into space like a rocket. to symbolize that he is going to “dog heaven”, as seen in another scene in which dogs rush skyward via a rainbow road.

It becomes even more apparent that Dae-wang cares more about promoting and celebrating his achievements as an entrepreneur in a separate video from an electronic billboard. Alongside the order of dog funeral procedures is an interview with Dae-wang, bragging about how he came to start the business.

Sungsil Ryu, recipient of the 19th Hermès Missulsang Foundation [SHIN MIN-HEE]

Sungsil Ryu, recipient of the 19th Hermès Missulsang Foundation [SHIN MIN-HEE]

“I don’t expect visitors to understand the narrative [of Dae-wang, Cherry and Natasha] at first glance,” Ryu said. “I wanted to emphasize how seeing the exhibition can be compared to watching the fire. Nowadays bulmeong, which means staring at the fire, has become popular, but I personally think it applies to passers-by as well. People tend to be passive spectators when they see someone else’s struggles. [Like the Korean saying,] people gather around a burning house as if sightseeing. I wanted to portray the many desires that correlate with fire – people having fun with it and people trying to make something out of it. [like profit].”

For Ryu, however, this does not mean that she aims to criticize capitalist reality. “I don’t submit to it either – it’s really hard to define [my intentions] all the time,” she said.

Ryu also modified these standing wreaths, which are usually placed at the entrance to funerals, by folding them in half. [FONDATION D'ENTREPRISE HERMES]

Ryu also modified these standing wreaths, which are usually placed at the entrance to funerals, by folding them in half. [FONDATION D’ENTREPRISE HERMES]

Ryu admitted that she felt “skeptical” when she had the opportunity to exhibit her works in the building of a luxury fashion house; one that could be a nickname for neoliberalism. While her works don’t directly undermine capitalism, Ryu said she doesn’t really appreciate that reality – which is why her latest solo exhibition was held online.

“But then I thought if this exhibit was to be held in person, then that would be the right fit for an ostentatious character, because it would mean he’s using that space to show off,” Ryu said. “On the surface it may be a funeral, but ultimately it’s about Dae-wang and his own lavish achievement that he wants so badly to show the world.”

“The Burning Love Story” continues until October 2. The Atelier Hermès is open every day except Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The exhibition is free for all.

BY SHIN MIN-HEE [[email protected]]

Briana R. Cross